In B.C.’s Bulkley Valley, a community organization has made local food a priority. Groundbreakers Collective is a social enterprise with a mission to promote the production and consumption of local food at fair value by linking food consumers, producers and social service agencies together to participate in agricultural activities and education. Their vision is ‘working for a self-reliant, resilient, healthy community in the Bulkley Valley with a strong local food system’.
Joe and Simone Hug of Healthy Hugs Organics near Smithers, BC are one of the farms providing products to the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. “When the Groundbreaker’s Collective contacted us last year to join the CSA, we thought it was a great idea,” says Joe Hug. “With more people recognizing the need to eat healthier, fresher and more local and realizing that the food from their local farmer was much better quality, the CSA was a good opportunity.”
Hug became interested in local, organic foods several years ago and began doing a lot of research on his own and visiting other countries. He was curious about the increasing health problems in North America as compared to some other locations, and saw a need for more organic food and more local farmers. Hug’s grandparents started farming in the area in 1937, and eight years ago Hug took over part of the farm to start his market garden.
“I’ve been growing vegetables all my life, but growing as a market grower is very different,” says Hug. “Along with my own research, soil testing and other information, I relied on a local grower as a mentor to get started, which really helped me. Organic farmers are really different than other businesses because they help each other out. There are few other businesses where people will help you out, they usually see you as competition and aren’t willing to share information.”
Hug likes the marketing part of the business and enjoys people, and has good success with his business. “We sell our produce through Farmer’s Markets, a local grocer and to local restaurants,” explains Hug. “Last year we began supplying produce regularly to the Groundbreakers Collective CSA.”
Multi-Producer CSA Model
The Groundbreakers Collective CSA is a multi-producer model run by a non-profit organization and is available to residents of the Buckley Valley. “The CSA is spread out amongst 12 different farms providing a range of products and organized by the Collective, which is a win-win for everybody,” says Hug. The Groundbreakers or subscribers sign up for the program, pre-order and pay for products before the growing season starts to help farmers with planning and cash flow. Subscribers also pay a wholesale price of the farmer’s market price to producers. In exchange, subscribers provide a few hours of labor to the farms during the season.
“This process works very well, although I’ve learned it is important not to have too many volunteers at one time,” adds Hug. “We had a dozen people one day, which was too many and find that two or three is the best situation for everyone. But it is a great opportunity for the farmers and volunteers to work and learn together.”
Hug believes the CSA is a great opportunity for his as a farmer and for the other partners. “However, the challenge is you are more dependent on making sure you have good crops to meet the orders. If you sell to a Farmer’s Market, and something happens to the crop through bad weather, flooding or other problems, you just don’t have anything to sell that week. However, with the CSA commitments, you are much more dependent on ensuring continuous production.”
For the Harvest Box, Hug supplied onions, storage potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beets and spinach all winter. “Previously, we had usually sold out of our supply of root vegetables at the Farmer’s Market before the end of December. Last year, we had to store the vegetables over the winter to meet our monthly Harvest Box commitments. This was a bit of a challenge, and we need to work on improving our storage capabilities to provide top quality produce all winter.”
So far, the multi-producer CSA program is a success and Hug expects the CSA to grow as people increasingly demand more local, fresh food. The CSA started their first Harvest Box program in September 2011, which included a box of local foods delivered once a month until May. The second Winter Harvest Box Program will run again starting in September 2012. The CSA continues to welcome new farmers and subscribers to their program.
“The Groundbreakers Collective got started because more people are wanting local, fresh foods,” says Joe Hug. “The aim of the Collective is to help share the workload of production, marketing and distribution for farmers and make local food more accessible for consumers.”